EWE AIN’T SEEN NOTHING YETMarch 24, 2015
When our Bishopton General Manager, Jim Steel ‘herd’ that new recruit, Corrine, wanted to learn about lambing he sprung into action eager to flaunt his flock. Here is her first hand account of lambing at Pannell Farm, his family enterprise deep in the heart of the Renfrewshire countryside…
The symbolic importance of the lamb has been implanted in our human psyche since biblical times. Renowned as the ‘bringers of spring’, the presence of lively lambs leaping in lustrous fields is associated with rebirth and life. So with a rather romantic notion of hassle free, natural births in a setting of golden gleaming hay, I was given a reality check by a vet friend who warned me in advance of unsympathetic farmers and cautioned that I try my best not to puke! I also had a lot of mixed perceptions of the lambing season and as I approached the picturesque scene at Pannell Farm, I was about to discover most of these were inaccurate and unwarranted.
Marching on…the Mother of all Months!
It is mid March and West of Scotland farmers are ‘baaatling’ on through what has been the mother of all months. Jim Steel, General Manager at our Bishopton Depot, and his Pannell Farm Manager wife Maureen are in the midst of the lambing process with eight births under their belt and 23 sheep still to lamb.
As I pull into the long drive way past the farm house, Pannell Farm B&B, rented cottages and campsite, I am met with miles and miles of greenery and a warm welcome by Jim and Maureen who has stepped out the house casually in her socks, cup of tea in hand. Eager to get cracking, Maureen slips into her wellies and says, ‘So, what do you want to know?’ My response? ‘Everything!’
Prior Preparation and Planning
Maureen takes me into the pen where two newly born lambs are resting with their mother. The twins were born only the previous night. After introducing me to the pair, she turns to business: ‘Preparation begins in November. Many people say that if you give the ewes minerals prior to the tupping season the chances of twins increases. Whether this is truth or myth I’m not sure.’
Many farmers report that drenching ewes in vitamins and minerals prior to the breeding season dramatically increases fertility and repeating the process five weeks prior to lambing leads to livelier healthier lambs. It is crucial that the ewes receive their minerals in late autumn before the tups (rams) are put in the same field. Jim and Maureen buy their mineral drenches from Hamilton Brothers Animal Health Division as they are a one stop shop for rearing, handling and grooming products and they stock a wide range of excellent mineral drenches including Provita and Kilco.
Also, to protect against destructive Clostridial Disease, Jim vaccinates his ewes four to six weeks prior to lambing with either Heptavac-P, Covexin 8 or Bravoxin 10 which were recommended to him by Hamilton Brothers Animal Health experts.
‘Clostridial disease is transmitted by bacteria in the soil and can thrive undetected in the gut until it’s too late’ says Jim. ‘These vaccines are fantastic as they also help prevent other horrible diseases like tetanus, dysentery and pulpy kidney. Eventually the antibodies find their way into the mother’s milk, which helps protect the lambs.’
Birth is Only Half the Baaaaattle!
After all the useful pre-prep information, it was time for Maureen to walk me through the birthing process and share tales of her trials and tribulations this season. Directing her hand towards one of the two new borns she says ‘That birth was a difficult one. The ewe was incredibly tight because she has only lambed twice before and the lamb’s head was stuck away back at an angle. My daughter, Fiona, held the ewe whilst I turned the head. I had to turn it two or three times to safely deliver the lamb. Lambing gel can be helpful in these situations.’
Lambing is second nature to Maureen who grew up on the farm working in the family business. A generation later, Maureen’s daughters follow her instruction whilst her mother, Jessie, manages the onsite Pannell Farm Bed & Breakfast. When neither of her daughters or Jim are around, the job of ‘lambing assistant’ often lands to whoever is there – from cottage residents to visiting friends. ‘Just be careful Corrine! If one of them decides to lamb when you are here, it’s YOU’ quips Maureen.
Once each lamb is born, Maureen takes steps to ensure it is safe from infection, ‘It’s important to sterilise the navel after cutting the umbilical cord. You can either use a specialist spray or a strong iodine solution to ensure infection is kept out.’
Maureen deftly picks up the lamb and sprays it’s navel to demonstrate. Caressing it in her arms like a child she then places a small straw in the lamb’s mouth and feeds it Greencoat Farm’s Watery Lamb Solution. Watery mouth is a disease used to describe a number of clinical symptoms in neo natal lambs which include lethargy, unwillingness to search for the teat and suck, profuse salivation and increasing abdominal distension.
The condition is caused by colonisation of the small intestine by E. Coli and initial contamination of the lambs gut results from a high environmental bacterial challenge from dirty and wet conditions in the lambing sheds and pens. In order to protect your lambs from watery mouth, our Animal Health department recommends purchasing either Veloron or Greencoat Farm’s Watery Lamb.
After the lambs have been treated, Maureen uses a marker to number them. Now, they can be let out to play in the fresh air. Maureen lifts a lamb under each arm as if carrying her shopping and coaxes the mother along into the first field within eyeshot of the farmhouse window, which is home to all the pregnant ewes.
Jim joins us to watch the young lambs in their new surroundings. Stumbling around cautiously, they stay close to their mother. ‘The best thing to do is lamb them, make sure they are happy enough and then put them outside,’ says Jim, ‘If the lambs lie down in gungy bedding they can pick up an illnesses through their navel like joint-ill.’ As the name suggests the disease affects all the joints in a similar manner to arthritis. ‘In many ways a lamb is not that much different from a baby. They are very fragile’ says Jim.
Get Your Lambs Sheep Shape…Prevention is Better than Cure!
When Jim and Maureen are not actually lambing, their attention is still firmly placed on their flock, in particularly the latest additions. In the odd moments when she is not patrolling the fields Maureen watches over a cup of tea from the farm house window to ensure the lambs are safe from harm.
The lambs’ first few weeks of life are, arguably, the most vital. At this stage the new borns are most susceptible to external infections. As prevention is better than cure, they always ensure they have a plentiful supply of lambing lotions and potions from Hamilton Brothers prior to the lambing season.
Whilst perusing the fields, loaf of bread in hand for feeding, Maureen and Jim share their knowledge of post-lambing dangers for both ewes and new borns.
In the first field most of the ewes lie flat out. One sheep is sloped down at an angle, resting all her weight on her knees, feet curled up. Jim comments on her discomfort: ‘This ewe has sore feet but until she lambs we can’t do anything about it. Once all the sheep have lambed we put each one through a foot bath using formalin acid, which hardens their feet.’
A prime source of Maureen and Jim’s livelihood, the health of each ewe and lamb is vital. ‘It’s important to care for their feet to prevent lameness’ advises Jim. To keep your ewes feet ‘sheep shape’ we recommend formalin and/or copper sulphate based solutions such as Hoofsure Endurance by Provita or Golden Hoof Plus.
Maureen stands in the middle of the field feeding the pregnant ewes, patting them affectionately calling them each by their own names. From Beryl to Lucy and Dolly each sheep has their own identity and personality. Will I ever eat lamb casserole again?
‘Steely’ Determination Leads to Success!
It is clear that the sheep are more than just a livelihood to the Steel family. ‘We are quite passionate about them,’ says Maureen. When I ask whether it’s difficult letting them go, Jim responds, ‘We take comfort knowing that they get pampered when they are here. On larger farms sheep are often rough handled.’
Last night’s new borns hang back in the corner of the field and feed from their mother. Jim remarks ‘You don’t always get milk from a ewe that is lacking in condition.’ Directing our attention towards the neo natal lambs feeding from a teat each Jim explains ‘A sheep only has two teats, whereas a cow has four. A bad vessel can affect one teat or both so you can have twins which can only suck from one teat, which is not ideal.’
When rearing the lambs, Maureen uses Wonderlamb milk substitute and feeder teats. Other milk substitutes available at Hamilton Brothers are Britmilk’s Vitalamb or Volac’s Lamlac. Most lamb colostrums produced by leading suppliers such as Provita, Britmilk and Volac come in 250g to 10kg packs so you can never be short of solution when you most need it.
Before heading to the second field further uphill, Maureen gestures to an agitated ewe pacing and digging into the ground with one foot, ‘That is one sign we look for in ewes who are about to lamb, they paw at the ground to try and make a nest.’ Maureen turns to Jim, ‘We’ll need to keep an eye on her.’
The second field is occupied by week old lambs and their protective mothers. Surrounded by greenery and overlooking the Glasgow skyline, the farm scene is like one from an idyllic Easter tale. The lambs leap around in pairs, dancing between their mothers legs. The animated nature of the fledgling lambs can partially be attributed to the minerals the mum previously received during the gestation period. However, older lambs are still susceptible to a number of dangerous illnesses such as joint-ill and need to be constantly nurtured and observed.
Getting Drenched is No Fluke!
Not uncommon in Scotland, a rainy Spring can lead to a rise in incidence of fluke. Fluke is an insidious parasite which if untreated can thrive on our moist pastures for over a year. It can cause anaemia, loss in body condition, a drop in milk yield and fertility or even premature death. Grazing sheep are exposed to fluke at all times (assuming there is fluke on that particular farm). It is advisable to treat ewes prior to being put to the tup with Triclabendazole, the drug found in Tribex Oral Drench. If they are treated again during pregnancy it will help reduce the fluke and worm burden on the pasture at lambing time. Throughout my visit Maureen is constantly vigilant, careful to ensure the health and happiness of each individual animal on the farm.
Leaving Pannell Farm, I take in the picturesque scene once more. The children who stay in the cottages play in the park. Two sit on the swings whilst the youngest girl peaks through the fence at the ewes lying sprawled on the ground after a satisfying feed. Maureen’s mother smiles watching the children play from the window of the B&B and further up the hill where 15 year old Heather’s horses happily graze, Jim is fixing a JCB Tractor.
Pannell Farm really is Jim and Maureen’s own little village where each and every guest and resident is welcomed by not only the owners but their live stock! Tours of the field and pens are commonplace and often, when passersby are called upon to assist with the lambing process, they are rewarded with a welcome cup of tea.
Fifteen minutes down the road, away from peaceful Pannell, I hear a ting on my mobile phone. Arriving home, I read the message from Jim that 10 minutes after I left, a little lamb was born to the agitated mother who was pacing the field just a couple of hours earlier!
And so the cycle continues. Within five days Jim and Maureen had delivered another four healthy births with 18 ewes still to lamb. As I read their news, Maureen’s words were ringing in my ears
‘Back in my father’s day fatalities were much more common and we did not have the same Animal Health products to protect the sheep from worms, fluke and other fatal diseases. These days, I realise the importance of preventative medications and it’s thanks to this and the friendly support of the Animal Health team at Hamilton Brothers that we are currently experiencing one of our most productive lambing seasons yet.’
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